In November 2005 the NOAA Fisheries made the announcement that the Southern Resident Orcas had been placed on the federal endangered species list. Now, the Fisheries Service by law must designate “critical habitat” for the orcas as well as complete a recovery plan that defines the risk to the whales and what steps need to be taken to protect them.
What does all this mean for these beautiful creatures that are such an integral part of the San Juan Islands and the Pacific Northwest? The whales are definitely “on the brink” in terms of their long-term viability. One of the major concerns has been the diminishment of their primary food source – salmon. The salmon have declined due to over-fishing, loss of fresh and salt-water habitat, dam building and poor logging practices. Coupled with the loss of their primary food source has been a build up of deadly toxins such as PCB’s, which harm the whale’s reproductive capabilities.
That’s the bad news…the positive aspect of the listing by the feds is that it will bring about more concentrated efforts to help protect the whales than if the whales had just been listed as threatened.